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Stories from the valley

The trailblazing life of Gold Rush Barber Edward Park Duplex

Contributed by Jim Morris

Except for the Halloween rush at Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm, Wheatland is about as quiet a community as you’ll find in the Sacramento Valley.  Even if you visit this town of about 3,500 off of Highway 65 in Yuba County, you really need to search to find a small plaque that honors a man who made a big contribution in the name of diversity.

Duplex memorial signBorn in Connecticut, Edward Park Duplex headed west in the 1850s – most likely to seek gold. After serving as an apprentice haircutter in Marysville, he ventured to Wheatland and opened his own barbershop on Main Street; a business that lasted for 100 years.

His barbershop enjoyed success and became a gathering place for townspeople.  Duplex was part of the bedrock of the town, widely respected for his intelligence and community service. Impressed with what they saw, fellow Wheatland citizens voted him to the local board of trustees. Then, in 1888, he took a big step forward – being elected Mayor of Wheatland.  Duplex is believed to be the first African-American Mayor of a city west of the Mississippi.

old barbershop buildingI couldn’t put it better than a Wheatland News article from 1973, describing Duplex as “a remarkable man who was years ahead of his time, and in a town which let its common sense and humanism override its prejudices during one of the prouder chapters of Wheatland’s history.”

So often our history shows how not to treat people.  It’s rewarding to see chapters like this, where a good man was evaluated and rewarded for his intellect and heart – not the color of his skin.

Special thanks to the Wheatland Historical Society for their help with this blog.